Dance and fitness
In North Ayrshire, I have been part of community dance and ‘Active Schools’ initiatives to encourage girls into fitness. My community classes provide enjoyable dance experiences that benefit social, mental and physical wellbeing. Learners like meeting with new friends while improving their general fitness in the longer term. I realise leaners need to enjoy classes to encourage the regular practice needed to show physical benefits. I plan differentiated dance material and provide feedback to safely progress aspects of fitness of all learners. Setting time limited fitness challenges inspires learning and continuity in community classes and performance in National or Higher courses.
In my classes dancers generally have poor aerobic capacity compared to peers in other high-intensity classes despite rehearsals and performances increasing strength, endurance and speed. This may result from intermittent pace to enable dancers to embody movement, work level not being prolonged or creative interpretation resulting in less sustained activity. Learners also disguise half-finished movement with large/artistic armlines. In community classes, low aerobic fitness causes fatigue during dance practice and could cause poor alignment, misplaced forces and consequently injury. Improved aerobic fitness would explain maintained alignment and movement quality in my skaters and swimmers classes compared to 8-13 years community classes. In the Active schools programme my dancers complete a multi-stage fitness test to find their maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) by running 20 meters in decreasing time intervals. To develop fitness I introduced reproducible movements in warmup described in Trinity Laban’s Dance Specific Fitness Tests-DSFT (Redding & Wyon, 2003). Sequences are completed in 4 minute stages in time to music at 68-108 bpm. Initially my dancers required a break at 78 bpm. After repeating weekly for 8 weeks, release of endorphins had encouraged learners to push harder for longer and consequently learners sustained 15 minutes reaching 78-94 bpm. Significant improvement was noted when my community and educational dancers were asked to devise a weekly fitness programme. They either attended my KA Leisure FBX/Metafit interval training after school or devised a walk/jog/run programme which I checked. When Active Schools repeated the multi-stage fitness test there was significant improvement in aerobic fitness and dancers were aware of the benefits of maintaining this.
Muscle endurance and strength
Dancers in all my classes show muscular endurance which makes them less vulnerable to muscle tears and strains. I take time to adjust muscle imbalances to prevent early fatigue by one muscle to overcompensating for weaker antagonistic muscles. Practicing plies with knees positioned over toes pelvis, spine, shoulders and head in line develops tensegrity and strength needed for jumps and leaps. Maintaining alignment through the body and supporting leg and preventing pelvic tilts during tendues and leg lifts develops kicks. Repeating releves with upward extension benefits the whole body. Exercises I use in class develop endurance, encouraging muscle groups to work continuously without lactic acid build up and requires use of these groups working together for effective movement. Benefits of endurance and strength are improved if in addition to weekly classes learners repeat exercises with the same technique. Learners have included in their weekly fitness programme practice of plie, releve, balance and tendue and increasing reps of leg lifts and lateral arm lifts. Dancers’ progress and enjoyment has improved and they are more aware of their strengths.
Dancers in my classes complete stretching after warmup and at the end of class to improve range of movement at/across/around joints. In the warmup dynamic stretches, including lunges, leg swings, releves and torso twists. I include similar movements in the lesson. Static stretches at the end of class, include hamstring and quadriceps, butterfly for turnout and back/torso. I differentiate to account for differences in natural flexibility and encouraging lengthening for 8 counts benefits stretch reflex. Learners’ flexibility increases most when practicing as part of a weekly fitness routine. They were more likely to sustain practice over 8 weeks if I provided a target of stretching a set distance and regularly checked progress. Some learners prefer to attend midweek dance or yoga classes rather than practicing alone. My challenge as a dance teacher is to maintain aspects of fitness in my dance programmes to benefit individuals in my classes. To ensure fitness progression is suited to age/ability, I follow BATD and SQA guidelines.
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